An Afghan family overcomes one stumbling block, only to find another

Refugees’ lifelong journey of ups and downs manifests with severe long-term repercussions for their children

Council of Refugee Women in Bulgaria
Jamila and her mother
Council of Refugee Women in Bulgaria
28 August 2020

Jamila*, age 4, has had to cope with so many challenges during her young life.  Born in Bulgaria to parents with refugee status, originally from Afghanistan, she has faced the kinds of ups and downs that would be distressing even for adults.

When her father Ahmad*, 45, and mother Soraya*, 33, arrived in Bulgaria, they were fleeing the poverty and violence of Afghanistan in search of a brighter future for the family. Ahmad has been residing in Bulgaria since 2010. His wife Soraya reunited with him three years later. The couple welcomed their daughters Amira* and Jamila.  Ahmad found a good-paying job and became fluent in Bulgarian, inching more closely to the finish-line of his asylum-seeking journey.

Things have not gone as smoothly as intended.

Ahmad and Soraya separated in 2015, and Soraya has been raising the girls practically alone. While the couple has tried to reunite several years later, there are reports of his increasingly abusive treatment of her.

Soraya discovered that Jamila was waking up and going to bed voicelessly, no uttering a word during the day.  Amira, more recently, developed a sever ear infection.  Haunted by the silence, and desperate amid the turmoil of sorting out her residency status and adjusting to life with no support from her husband, the mother sought outside help.  She first reached out to Caritas, a leading humanitarian organization in the integration and settlement of refugees, and was eventually put in touch with the Council of Refugee Women in Bulgaria (CRWB), which also helps refugees and asylum-seekers in the integration process.

CRWB staff accompanied the mother and children to the medical consultations.  The doctor said that Jamila was showing symptoms of Down’s syndrome.  At the moment, her father, Ahmad, is refusing to agree to a further diagnosis – citing shame and a mistrust of foreign doctors. Following her deeply rooted belief, Soraya says she needs her husband’s approval.

Men can do whatever they want and women have no rights. A woman cannot go to work without approval, even if she wants to. A woman cannot do anything without approval,

explains Soraya.

CRWB social workers advise Soraya that a correct diagnosis will allow for financial support and will trigger social services mechanisms including consultations with psychologist and speech expert for Jamila. Follow up visits reveal that the young mother is struggling to handle both children; she is in need of an ongoing support.

COVID-19 added a complicating layer of vulnerability as well. Through Boyko Tsenkov, a CRWB social worker assigned to her case, Soraya sought refuge at the St. Petka crisis center to benefit from the medical and protection services provided there.  The solution was initially helpful but did not last:  Language barriers, miscommunication and complaints from the neighbors due to the noises of children make it impossible for Soraya and her girls to stay there.

Unfortunately, due to the small number of crisis centers and the insufficient services for handling domestic violence, there is not enough capacity for coping with children with specific needs, especially during the current pandemic,

 says Tsenkov.

The dynamics of families with domestic violence often lead to development of psychological problems for the children,” says Linda Awanis, Chairperson of CRWB  “Refugees integration is a complex process and needs constant and continuous efforts.

For now, CRWB remains the only viable and regular source of support.

* Names have been changed to protect their privacy.

DG Health

This publication is part of the Project Strengthening Refugee and Migrant Children’s Health Status in Southern and South Eastern Europe, Co-funded by the Health Programme of the European Union.

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